While working in MCC archive I’ve dealt with enquiries on many subjects but by far the most asked about topic is 'Bodyline'.
As well as the scorebooks and administrative files on the 1932/33 bodyline series in Australia, we also hold some fascinating correspondence in the MCC Archive.
MCC was responsible for the administration of England tours at the time and initially the affair was not taken very seriously. Indeed, Club Secretary, William Findlay, seems to have believed that the Australian Press were 'making mountains out of molehills'.
Of course the MCC had not seen first-hand the tactics employed by England captain Douglas Jardine and his bowlers in the Third Test at Adelaide; there was after all no Sky Television, Hawkeye or Hotspot in the 1930s!
It was difficult for Findlay to judge exactly what was happening. Primarily he had to rely on accounts of events from tour manager Pelham Warner and assistant manager Richard Palairet.
Findlay's letter to Christopherson in which he's dismissive of bodyline
Findlay, when discussing the incident at the time in a letter with Committee Member Stanley Christopherson - who would later go on to be MCC's longest serving President - told him that: "It is very unfortunate [Bill] Woodfull and [Bert] Oldfield being hit by [Harold] Larwood, but he seems to have been bowling like an ordinary fast bowler at the time. I cannot help thinking that it is the old story of the good batsmen getting out of the way and the bad batsmen being hit."
Findlay was clearly under the impression that leg theory bowling was not in operation. But how was he to know?
His attitude soon changed.
The Australian Board of Control issued a cable to MCC regarding 'Bodyline'. It clearly shows that good relations between MCC and Australia were in jeopardy.
The letter in which Findlay relays the cable from Australia
Two emergency meetings of the MCC Committee were arranged to discuss this cable. Findlay, who had so glibly dismissed Bodyline as a fuss over nothing a short time before, was now so pre-occupied with the issue that in his correspondence he felt compelled to request a release from jury service.
Findlay’s appeal to Marylebone County Court was on the basis that he was at Lord’s ‘every morning from 8.45 until nearly 6 o’clock with only a few minutes for lunch,’ and as a consequence he could ‘hardly call my soul my own’.
Findlay’s letters around the time became more apologetic too, blaming the 'situation in Australia' for not writing more to his recipients.
The letters to Marylebone County Court asking to be excused from jury service
Findlay needed to be at a MCC Committee meeting on February 13 1933 and his report to the Committee is included in the minutes for that date, so evidently he was successful in being excused!
Despite his initial handling of Bodyline, Findlay quickly realised how potentially serious the issue was and dealt with it accordingly. He remained Secretary of MCC until 1936.
Eighty years on, bodyline remains one of the most divisive and discussed topics in the history of cricket.
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What is in the MCC Archive?
Work on cataloguing the MCC Archive, held next to the Ticket Office at Lord’s, commenced in March 2012 as part of a wider Documentation Project.
So far over 45% of the material held in the archive has been catalogued.
This has included minute books, scorecards, plans of the ground and surrounding areas, personal papers of past Secretaries of MCC, deeds relating to the ground and surrounding properties, touring files, audio interviews with famous cricketers and personalities past and present, cash books and scrapbooks belonging to famous figures within MCC such as Gubby Allen and Sir Pelham Warner.
Around 1,400 of over 2,250 cataloguing entries of archival material are currently available to view online at Lords.org, through the online catalogue, which also contains details of our Museum and Library collections.
As the cataloguing has progressed we have been able to open our collection up to Members and researchers, and as a consequence we have now had more visitors than ever before.